Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for Violin and Cello,
Piano Quartet No. 1
Christian Mandeal, cond; Mihaela Martin (vn); Frans Helmerson (vc); “Georges Enescu” Bucharest PO; Pro Arte Qrt
ARTE NOVA 391150 (77: 27)
Fair is fair. I have given Christian Mandeal a pretty hard time in these pages over his recordings of the Brahms symphonies. Only to his most recently arrived reading of the Third Symphony did I give a reserved nod of approval. With this performance of Brahms’s
“Double,” however, you can forget Mandeal; he’s just along for the ride. Cellist Frans Helmerson takes immediate control with an opening recitative of such authoritative delivery, perfect pacing, and tone projection that he puts others of more famous name to shame. We know from the very outset that Mandeal’s role in this outing is to be that of a hood ornament. When Mihaela Martin makes her midway incursion into the cello’s soliloquy, she also makes it abundantly clear that she will not be the lesser of two equals.
Originally recorded in 1996, this is far and away one of the better Brahms “Doubles” among recent entries. Among older recordings, three of my favorites have long been Isaac Stern’s 1964 performance with Leonard Rose and Eugene Ormandy, (possibly because I heard Stern and Rose play the piece together live in San Francisco) not his later remake with Yo-Yo Ma, Abbado, and the Chicago Symphony; Francescatti with Fournier and Colin Davis conducting the BBC Symphony; and Christian Ferras with Paul Tortelier and Kletzki leading the Philharmonia Orchestra. Of course, there are those who will claim there was never need to record the piece again after Heifetz teamed up with Feuermann and Ormandy, but I’m not one of them. More recent entries from Zimmermann/Schiff/Sawallisch, Shaham/Wang/Abbado (I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I like Abbado in just about everything except Brahms), and the disappointing reading by the Capuçon sibs, reinforces my belief in just how difficult it is to bring this work off. Only the recent PentaTone release with Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott has fully satisfied my desire for a new Brahms “Double.”
Which makes this dark-horse entry from Arte Nova both surprising and welcome. It’s an extremely strong performance in every respect, with both soloists equally matched and equally in charge. It is patently evident in listening to the recording that the Bucharest Philharmonic, which I’ve maintained all along is a fine orchestra deserving of a better conductor, is following the soloists and not Mandeal, a good thing for all concerned.
I guess there’s nothing illegal in a music ensemble appropriating the name of another more famous and historical one, but it is confusing. The so-named Pro Arte Quartet here has no connection with the great string quartet of the same name founded in Belgium in 1912. That ensemble, obviously with a different roster of players, is, as far as I know, still active.
The group calling itself the Pro Arte Quartet on this recording—Anda Petrovici, violin; Gabriel B?l?, viola; Marin Cazacu, cello; and here joined by Nicolae Licaret, piano—is a Romanian ensemble formed in 1976. Again, I’d have to say that their performance of Brahms’s G-Minor Piano Quartet, famous for its Rondo
finale, easily eclipses not a few recordings by more widely known artists. My standard-bearers in Brahms’s piano quartets have long been Domus’s recordings on Virgin Classics, apparently no longer available. Too bad. But this recording with the Pro Arte is very nearly their equal. The players are high-spirited, technically secure, robust of tone, and, particularly in Brahms’s Gypsy-inspired last movement, culturally close to that whole Magyar, Romanian, and Moldavian flavor the composer tried to capture in his Hungarian dances and Gypsy-tinged movements.
This is an excellent recording; its budget price only gives you more incentive to acquire it.
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Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102 "Double" by Johannes Brahms
Mihaela Martin (Violin),
Frans Helmerson (Cello)
Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra,
Bucharest George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1887; Austria
Length: 35 Minutes 50 Secs.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms
Gabriel Bala (Violin),
Marin Cazacu (Cello),
Nicolae Licaret (Piano),
Anda Petrovici (Violin)
Pro Arte Piano Quartet
Written: 1855-1861; Germany
Length: 40 Minutes 15 Secs.
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